The 2019 American Time Use Survey: The Hits Keep Coming

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – American humorist Mark Twain..

Every June since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the results of its American Time Use Survey for the previous year. The data for ATUS 2018, extrapolated from 9,600 individual interviews (down from 10,200 for 2017) was released on June 19, 2019. For the second straight year, ATUS’s press release focused on the percentage of employed persons who worked on an average weekday (89% vs. 2017’s 82%), as opposed to those who worked on average weekend days (31% vs. 2017’s 33%). While the weekend workload has decreased slightly, significantly more of us are working on weekdays. (The total working percentages exceed 100% because some people work on weekdays and weekends.)

Based on ATUS 2018, we can see that Americans are NOT lazy. We tend to work longer hours with less time off than residents of most industrialized nations. Misreads of the statistics sometimes make news organizations believe otherwise, especially the average number of hours worked per day. This generally varies from 3.2 to 3.7, which may seem disturbing at first glance. But ATUS counts all noninstitutionalized American civilians over the age of 15, and every day of the year. Most teens under 18 don’t work; nor do retired individuals, and many on government assistance. The ATUS work-year includes all holidays, vacations, and other days off. So, the average number of hours worked on any day for the civilian population of 3.57 in 2018, as opposed to 3.59 in 2017, means little. (Though it’s interesting to see that it’s higher than the 3.28 hours of 2016). What matters is the number of hours employed people work on an average workday, and that includes part-time work, so even that must be taken with a grain of salt.

The total number of workers in 2018 was approximately 165,269,000, for a 2.2% growth in the workforce since 2017—after nearly zero growth from 2016 to 2017. This number amounted to 67% of the sample universe, about the same as last time. The average number of hours worked on an average workday was 7.62 hours (down from 7.69), which breaks down to 8.10 for full-time employees (8.17 in 2017), and 5.10 hours for part-time workers (down from 5.32 hours). For weekdays worked, the numbers are 7.99, down from 8.06, whereas full-time employees worked an average of 8.50 hours (down from the 8.56 hours of 2016 and 2017), with part-timers clocking 5.17 hours, 12 minutes less than 2017’s 5.37. This may reflect a large number of part-time workers ascending to full-time jobs.

In 2018, 110,785,000 people worked on the average day. This marks an increase of 2.26 million from 2017, after a precipitous drop of about the same amount from 2016’s 110,592,000. This suggests post-Great Recession growth reversed briefly in 2017, before turning upward again in 2018. Meanwhile, workers are as likely as every to do some or all of their work at home, a statistic that has remained around 24% since 2009 (though it dipped to 22% in 2016). About 42% of workers with advanced degrees worked at least part of their day from home, down from 45.6% in 2017.

As for other uses of our time: in 2018, average time spent sleeping rose to 8.82 hours, a bit higher than 2017’s 8.8 hours and almost half an hour longer than 2016’s 8.39. Maybe it’s finally gotten through to everyone how important sleep is! In 2018, employed individuals averaged 1.61 hours of housework daily, up from 2017’s 1.55 hours. Workers spent 3.65 hours of leisure time daily, compared with 3.72 in 2016.

Still Productive

Americans are working as hard as ever and sleeping a little longer. A higher percentage of us are working on weekdays than last year. This could be because the lack of growth in the size of the workforce observed in 2017 has reversed itself, with both more workers having no choice to work more often on weekdays; or it may represent an emphasis of weekday work over weekend work, perhaps due to the increase in full-time workers.

While ATUS is intended as a generalized information source for economists and other interested persons, it serves as an intriguing indicator of economic growth and productivity. Since its origin in 2003, it’s proven that we’re are a hardworking bunch—and that in general, our working hours have increased over time, though there have been some annual variances. Interestingly, our average sleep-time has grown in recent years, while leisure time has remained basically static. As a nation, we seem to have improved our work-life balance a bit, even with the economic dip of 2017.

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© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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